If we have suffered significant childhood trauma, it is extremely common to find that, as adults, we can become emotionally upset as a result of (seemingly) small provocations, we experience particularly intense emotions when we are upset, and we have great difficulty calming ourselves down (‘calming ourselves down’ is often called ‘self-regulating’ by psychologists) once we are upset. This will be particularly true if, in connection with our traumatic early lives, we have gone on to develop, as adults, borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD).
This tendency to feel intense emotions when upset, together with the inability to self-regulate such emotions effectively, stems from a traumatic childhood that deprived us of developing the normal ‘self-soothing skills’ that those who experienced relatively stable upbringings are usually able to develop (as I have discussed at length elsewhere on this site – e.g. in my article entitled ‘The Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Limbic System).
THE THREE COMPONENTS OF EMOTIONS :
Our emotions are made up of three components :
- THE SENSORY COMPONENT
- THE MOTOR COMPONENT
- THE COGNITIVE COMPONENT
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
1. SENSORY EXPERIENCING :
When we feel an emotion, one component of it involves biological / physiological alterations within the body, such as breathing (when we are anxious it tends to be fast and shallow and we may hyperventilate (to read my article on the bi-directional relationship between anxiety and hyperventilation click here).
Other sensory aspects of the experiencing of emotions include heart-rate, blood pressure and digestion (IBS and stress are often related).
Being aware of such biological / physiological sensations within our body is technically referred to as : interoception.
2. MOTOR ACTIVITY :
At the motor level, emotions such as anxiety may manifest as physical tension of various muscle groups such as the muscles of the face and shoulders.
3. COGNITIVE COMPONENT :
Emotions also interact with our cognitions (i.e. thought processes). A simple example is that constantly thinking the worst will happen is likely to make us feel constantly anxious and fearful.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THERAPY :
It logically follows, therefore, that in accordance with the three components of emotions described above, we may intervene therapeutically in an attempt to ameliorate unpleasant emotions such as anxiety at the three corresponding levels : the sensory level, the motor level and the cognitive level.
Treating our anxiety at all three levels can, therefore, be viewed as a kind of triple-pronged attack.
Examples Of Therapies Specifically Targeting Each Of The Three Levels :
At the sensory level, examples of therapies include breathing exercises, relaxation exercises and visualization/hypnosis
At the motor level, examples of therapies include massage, progressive muscle relaxation and physical exercise
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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